The Power of Making Sweeping Generalizations and Big Assumptions…

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…is that you can say pretty much anything you want and think you are right without having to worry that you might be missing something. The power is that you can speak with authority on matters you don’t really understand as well as you think you do to prop up your position without the data or experience to really back it up. You can put down dissent, saying they don’t know what they are talking about because your experience is different from theirs and because you have all the answers already there isn’t much need to listen to anyone else. You can speak generally of large groups of people as if they all believe the same, act the same, and feel the same when they don’t.

Making generalizations and assumptions is actually necessary when discussing complex and broad situations because you just cannot hit every angle on an issue from every perspective or know what everyone thinks. It just isn’t possible. But it is important to recognize the limitations of your own experience and perception and how that influences the way you communicate about a particular topic.

So here is how you guard against going too far in your generalizations and assumptions. Recognize your limitations. Listen for truth in those who dissent. Compliment those who disagree with you where you can. Be Jesus to everyone. Pray for your enemies and be careful with generalizations and assumptions…they are necessary but dangerous. They have a lot of power but when used inappropriately hinder having a Christ-like dialog because it can keep us from listening to outside perspectives and ensures us that in the end our position will win out whether that is justified or not. And most people love the feeling of winning the argument, right?

Last, be careful assuming that someone is making generalizations when they are actually being specific, just hitting one angle of a particular topic. This happens when someone points out an issue and then other people think that person is saying everyone is like that or thinks like that or acts like that when that is not what is being said at all.

5 Responses

  1. I appreciate you commenting on the necessity of making these generalizations as well as the caution one should use when making them. You are right…there is no way to know everything about everything…if that meant we couldn’t speak on those topics then there wouldn’t be much for many of us to speak about!

    I find in teaching the Bible that there is a need to regularly caution our audience in regards to some of their sweeping assumptions. The Pharisees are perhaps the poster children for this discussion. Because of the fierce rhetoric that is used against them by Jesus, the entire group is often painted entirely in a negative light, when there is actually much to respect about their discipline/passion.

    1. There were certainly some good Pharisees. In Acts it says some if the Pharisees became Christians. That is a great example Doug.

  2. And some of the Pharisees stoked fear in the others if they didn’t go along. Group think is not a good thing to do or catch. It will sink any organization that gets it. It also branded all Pharisees with the same iron.

    1. Great point. There are a lot if factors other than something being true that can get people in the bandwagon.

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